Dreaming in Cuban, published in 1992, was Cristina Garcia's first novel and was a finalist for the National Book Award. The novel has been critically and academically acclaimed. It is frequently anthologized as well as taught in literature classes. Garcia highlights many themes, such as family, relationships, politics, and spiritualism. The fragmented narrative jumps back and forth in time, incorporates some epistolary chapters (letters from Celia) and is told from the perspective of multiple narrators: primarily from the three generations of women in the del Pino/Almeida family.
As fragmented as the narrative can be, there is a rhythmic balance, a lucid ebb and flow between the often turbulent events and the lush imagery that describes them. Garcia has stated that the novel began as a poem and this poetic tendency, which might be described as Symbolist and/or Romantic, interweaves relatively seamlessly with Garcia's brand of magical realism, most often associated with the work of Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
The story is structured around the Cuban Revolution: the politics, family life, spirituality, and the cultural consciousness of native Cubans and Cuban exiles living in the United States. The four main characters in the novel (Celia, Lourdes, Felicia, and Pilar—women of the del Pino family) have significantly different personalities and different reactions to the revolution. Celia, the matriarch, is an ardent Castro supporter. Her daughter, Lourdes, is a Joe McCarthy-like figure. Celia's second daughter, Felicia, after three doomed marriages, practices Santeria for solace. And Pilar, Lourdes' daughter, is the rebellious teen who turns out to be the psychical bridge between Cuba and the U.S. as well as between Lourdes and Celia. Perhaps one of the most important points in the novel is the diversity and individualism of Cubans and Cuban exiles and the complexity of individual identities in a family which lives between those two worlds (Cuba and the United States...or three worlds if you count the "in-between" world of magical realism where Lourdes talks to her dead father, Felicia becomes a priestess, and Pilar—while living in New York—talks to her grandmother, Celia, who lives in northern Cuba). Pilar's transcendental correspondence with Celia is the primary example of living in one world and dreaming in the other.